James Bond: You Only Live Twice – Ian Fleming

Following the controversy around the patchy rewriting of the James Bond novels announced last month, see here, and this coming so soon after the furore concerning a similar ‘sensitivity driven rewrite’ of the Roald Dahl stories; which resulted in Penguin Books announcing they would issue the original texts in parallel so that people could chose which version they wished, I decided to have a look to see what the fuss was about. I was never a fan of Dahl as a child but I did buy two or three Bond books whilst at school and they have languished unread on my shelves for almost fifty years as it rapidly became clear that I wasn’t a fan of these either. So it is Ian Fleming that I am going to have a look at as at least I have examples. My Pan paperback of You Only Live Twice is the fifth printing from 1974 which I bought new. The book was first published in 1964.

Almost the entire book is set in Japan and straight away I hit some stereotypes of Japanese women as submissive and largely there to be decorative or as sexual playthings but these initial impressions were offset near the end of this book with the introduction of Kissy Suzuki who is definitely not submissive, or just there to be decorative, and whilst she does end up in bed with Bond it is largely at her initiative not his. There are other stereotypes presented regarding Japanese men, the high work ethic, obedience to their superiors and pertinent to the plot of the book the high suicide rate. Now I don’t know what the suicide rate was in the early 1960’s when this book was written but according to World Population Review the suicide rate is still a significant concern to the Japanese government and suicide is the leading cause of death in men between the ages of 20-44 and women between the ages of 15-34.

My main problem with the book however is that for what I expected to be an action adventure tale there is surprising little of either. That is probably due to Bond’s mission in the book which is not as a 00 agent but rather in a more diplomatic role given him as an attempt to get him back to work after the murder of his wife, of just one day, at the end of the previous novel ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. At the start of this novel Bond is a wreck, unable to concentrate on his job, drinking far too much and convinced that he is about to be fired but has no idea what he would do next. His boss ‘M’ is indeed thinking Bond is washed up but is persuaded to give him this final job to see if it can shake him back into usefulness. This means that the plot is largely Bond and Tiger Tanaka, a senior member of the Japanese secret service, having endless meetings usually involving the consumption of lots of sake whilst Bond tries to negotiate British access to a high level source of intelligence from Moscow. It is only when it becomes clear that Britain has nothing of suitable significance to offer that the main story is revealed and that is not until page 109 of what in this edition is a 190 page book and even then Bond doesn’t really do anything until page 141 when he starts to swim over to the castle and by page 171 we are reading Bond’s obituary in The Times.

But I am getting ahead of myself, Tiger comes up with a job that would do as payment and that is to eliminate Dr. Guntram Shatterhand who has established a politically embarrassing ‘Garden of Death’ filled with poisonous plants and deadly animals which has become a major draw for suicide attempts. The Japanese cannot move against him as he has presented the garden as a major resource area for biologists so has gained much honour in Japan for his apparent generosity but the sheer number of bodies returned from the grounds is worrying to the government. When Bond is shown a photo of Shatterhand he recognises that he is in reality Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond’s major enemy and the person who killed his wife so he is very keen to finally exact revenge however he can. I’m not about to spoil any potential readers enjoyment of the little action that takes place but suffice to say that the obituary is somewhat premature, after all Fleming wrote two more Bond books after this one.

But getting back to the language used, which was after all the reason I read this again after so many decades. Yes there are outdated stereotypes in the book, but it is a product of its time. I didn’t see anything grossly offensive in the text although a Japanese reader may find more than I spotted. ‘Sensitivity Readers’ are almost by definition overly sensitive in looking for terminology to justify their position and are determined to heap modern norms on a book which is after all almost sixty years old and which simply betrays the attitudes of its period. Quite what they would make of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or other classics I dread to think, let’s just hope they never pick up a copy.


Lady into Fox & A Man in the Zoo – David Garnett

These two novellas by David Garnett include his first published work, Lady into Fox from 1923 with A Man in the Zoo coming out the following year. They are both fairly short, Lady into Fox being 24,514 words whilst A Man in the Zoo clocks in at 24,133 words. This undoubtedly explains why Penguin USA decided to combine the two in a book that is still only 135 pages long. Interestingly despite Garnett being English and several other later books by him being printed by Penguin UK I cannot find either of these stories in a UK released edition from Penguin Books. My copy is the Penguin USA first edition from December 1946 and it was later reprinted by Signet.

Garnett was a member of the Bloomsbury Group and indeed married Virginia Woolf’s niece Angelica Bell although she was then 23 years old and he was 50 which caused a considerable scandal. Although not as much as if it had been known at the time that in his twenties, and indeed during the time Angelica was born, he had had an, at that time illegal, homosexual relationship with her father, the artist Duncan Grant. As well as being a novelist he was heavily involved in the publishing scene in England being an original partner of the famous private press Nonesuch Press as well as being Literary Editor of the New Statesman for six years and a director of publishing house Rupert Hart-Davies. Along with his novels I have several of his factual works, of which he wrote many, including The Battle of Britain, written during WWII, and his edited collection of the letters of T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. From what little I have read of his fiction though he tends to the surreal and this is especially the case in his best known work Lady into Fox. ‘Aspects of Love’ which he wrote in 1955 was subsequently turned into a hit musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber with lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart in 1989 although I doubt that many people know that David Garnett wrote the original work even though he is credited on the posters.

Lady into Fox

Right, this is definitely an odd story about a woman who spontaneously turns into a fox whilst out for a walk in the country with her husband. This happens within a few pages of the beginning and the tale concerns how she initially retains her personality and intelligence but that both of these gradually fade away as she spends more time as a vixen. Immediately after the transformation it is almost as if she doesn’t realise what has happened to her and when her husband takes her home she tries to dress herself and wants to sit at the table when eating, they even find a way for her to play cards together. He dismisses their servants so that they won’t find out what has happened and explains that she has had to go to London for some urgent reason, he even shoots their two dogs as they just howl and bark all the time as they are aware of a fox being in the house. The deterioration of her humanity is expressed most strongly by her sleeping arrangements, for the first few days she sleeps in the bed with her husband but gradually she moves to the foot of the bed and then to the floor, before refusing to go to the bedroom at all. It is quite clear that she is becoming wilder and that he cannot keep her even as a pet tame fox. She also starts trying to escape from the house and garden until realising that she cannot be happy in captivity he lets her loose into the countryside to exist as best she can. I won’t go into the rest of the story but suffice to say that although he eventually regains contact with her it doesn’t have a happy ending.

A Man in the Zoo

Another strange tale, but no metamorphosis is required this time. The story begins with Josephine Lackett and John Cromartie walking around London Zoo as they were wont to do on a pleasant weekend. The pair had been dating for some time and John was keen to marry Josephine but they are having a row about it as her father didn’t approve, presumably due to the lack of money on John’s behalf. I have selected below the salient part of this argument which becomes the turning point in the whole story.

The next morning John Cromartie wrote to the head of the zoo with the proposal that he should be exhibited in the great ape enclosure and thereby complete the collection. This suggestion was received by the committee running the zoo with considerable disagreement as to whether this would be appropriate but ultimately, because the main objector was disliked by a large part of the rest of the group, they agreed to the idea and a meeting was arranged with Cromartie. It was decided that he should be exhibited in ‘his natural state’ i.e. dressed in his own clothes and with a simply but well furnished living room with his books and a bedroom and bathroom both not on view to the public and that this should be laid out in the cage between an orangutan and the chimpanzee enclosure and so Cromartie moves in with the following written on the sign attached to his cage.

Homo Sapiens
This specimen, born in Scotland, was presented to
the Society by John Cromartie, Esq. Visitors are re-
quested not to irritate the Man by personal remarks.

The astonishment in the visitors later that day on finding a human displayed at the zoo was palpable and this started considerable debate not only amongst the public but in the newspapers as to the probity of the exhibit, which led to huge crowds coming to see him much to the irritation of the orangutan and chimpanzee on either side who suddenly found themselves largely ignored and without the extra titbits it was common to feed the animals at the time. The story progresses with Josephine coming to visit him several times, initially with fury in case she should be identified as his former girlfriend and determination that he had gone mad but gradually things develop and unlike Lady into Fox this does have a happy if somewhat unexpected ending.

Of the two novellas I definitely recommend ‘A Man in the Zoo’ as worth a read, less so ‘Lady into Fox’ although if you like tragedies that one might appeal. Both stories are now pretty well out of print (I have found some print on demand editions and they are also available on Kindle) however they can be read on Project Gutenberg. Lady into Fox is here, and A Man in the Zoo can be found here.

Beauty & Beast – Olivia McCannon

This week it’s the turn of another beautiful book published by the private press Design For Today and this time it is two books in one as if you buy the signed limited edition of the first one hundred copies, as I did, you get the hardback book along with a cut out and make toy theatre which includes a script so that you can perform the play. The total run of books is just 650 so 100 with the toy theatre and 550 without. I suspect that the toy theatre edition has probably sold out as my copy is number 85, but the standard edition appears to still be available on the Design For Today website, although the page relating to it is out of date as at the time I’m writing this it still refers to it being available for pre-order only.

The illustrations have been done by Clive Hicks-Jenkins who also illustrated another book I have from Design For Today, Hansel and Gretel retold by the current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage which I reviewed back in June 2019, his style is immediately distinctive and fits both these books beautifully. The words are by poet and translator, Olivia McCannon and don’t follow any previous version of Beauty and Beast that I am aware of which is one of the joys of the book in that you have no idea where the story is going. The book is wonderfully designed by Laurence Beck so this is definitely going to be an image heavy blog, I apologise in advance for the slightly distorted pictures but I really didn’t want to force the spine flat simply to get perfect pictures.

The text above is part of Beast’s thoughts as he carries the unconscious Beauty into his castle, as she has fainted at first sight of him. As you can see this is framed within a proscenium arch to echo the toy theatre that is also part of the production and has similarly been designed by Hicks-Jenkins. Pages are sometimes with black backgrounds and otherwise white, there are also many full page and double page illustrations, this truly is an art book showcasing the poetic words by McCannon. As I said above this is an original tale involving Beauty having to go to Beast after her father took a pomegranate fruit from Beast’s garden and then signing a contract to forfeit her in return for being allowed to leave Beast’s enchanted castle.

One unusual feature of the book is that so many of the images were done by Hicks-Jenkins before the text was written, sometimes many years before the book was even thought of, and are inspired by his reaction to the Jean Cocteau film ‘La Belle et la Bête‘ which Hicks-Jenkins first saw back in 1964 and which had a huge impact on him. The words and pictures were tied together between covid lock-downs here in the UK and in her introduction McCannon gives thanks to Joe Pearson, owner of Design For Today, for “keeping faith with a project that kept wanting to change”. Whilst the text is relatively short the amount of pictures and the need to combine them all into what is a truly lovely book must have been a highly complex exercise.

One of the double page spreads, in this case depicting Beauty travelling back to her father via interconnecting mirrors. Beast allows her to do this because her father is ill but she agrees that she must return within a week. Needless to say once she is back home the week passes so quickly that she overstays leading to the final tragedy of the story when she does finally return to Beast’s castle only to find him gravely ill from the despair that she may have left him forever. Unfortunately her two sisters see her travel back via the mirrors and realise that they too can go there, but they want to rob Beast of his treasure. Whilst they attack the castle and realise that it is well defended, Beauty cries over Beast, realising at last that she truly loves him.

Sadly Beast dies but Beauty resolves to stay at the Castle, the treachery of her sisters having repelled her from her original home. I loved the book, as have all the people I have shown it to so far. But as I mentioned at the beginning mine is one of the 100 copies that come with a toy theatre in its own folder that is contained with the book in a lovely slipcase made by Ludlow Bookbinders. I haven’t made the theatre but I am considering scanning and reprinting it onto card so that I can keep the original pages whilst also enjoying the theatre. I share with Joe Pearson a love of Pollocks toy theatres along with the scarce Penguin Books items that were designed to be used with them. You can read my short history of toy theatres in Britain based on a couple of the Penguin examples here. But for now here are some pictures of the flattened toy theatre that came with this lovely book, if I do get to make it then I will replace these with the replica.

Front cover of the folder


Rear cover showing some of the cutouts and the scenes that can be performed.